According to the calendar, it may not be summer for a few more weeks, but tell that to booksellers, who launched their summer selling season on Memorial Day. One week in and many independents are anticipating an up summer. A mild winter and a strong first quarter contributed to a number of booksellers’ sunny outlooks, along with strong sales for two trilogies: Fifty Shades of Grey, which Jackie Inman, owner of Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, Del., projected will hold at least through July, and The Hunger Games, which got a significant boost from the film. “After several years of decline, [business has] turned the corner,” says Bill Reed, co-owner of Misty Valley Books in Chester, Vt. “We’re not back to where it was, but we’re okay.”
Some, like Bradley Graham, co-owner of Washington, D.C.’s Politics and Prose Bookstore, are doing even better, but were hard-pressed to explain why sales have been so good. “We’re obviously pleased,” he says. “We don’t know what’s accounting for new growth. We could explain it last fall from the bump from Borders.” He is using this as an opportunity to do a major renovation of the store’s first floor, starting next month. The new layout is intended to improve traffic flow and allow more seating to accommodate 300 people at in-store events. Other changes for the second half of the year include moving from an outdated MS-DOS inventory control system to a new one and overhauling the store’s politics-prose.com Web site.
Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans., continues to see new customers from the closing of both a Borders and a Books-a-Million last summer. Between new shoppers and events like one with Rachel Maddow (Drift) that resulted in sales of 1,600 books, co-owner Vivien Jennings is optimistic. “If it continues,” she says, citing newly released books by big-name authors like Rachael Ray (The Book of Burger), Dan Rather (Rather Outspoken), and Douglas Brinkley (Cronkite), “we’re going to have a great summer.” To enhance sales, she’s begun adding framed reviews to in-store displays and framed author photos to displays of signed books.
Some new stores have been seeing the kind of growth more common before 2008. “So far, we are looking at 2012 being our best year,” says Dick Brulotte, manager of five-year-old Beehive Books in Delaware, Ohio. Since the holidays, sales have been “significantly” better than preholiday sales. At two-year-old Alamosa Books, a children’s bookstore in Albuquerque, N.M., owner Elizabeth Anker says, “We are consistently doubling sales over last year.” That’s on top of a holiday season up over 120%.
Similarly, two-year-old Books & Books Westhampton, in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., has seen sales up an average of 40%–50% this year, according to co-owner Jack McKeown, who is staffing for a “substantial” increase in traffic this summer. He’s also launching a hand-selling initiative (SHINE) that requires each bookseller to adopt three or four titles to hand-sell during the high season. Selected titles range from Lauren Goff’s Arcadia to Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Leslie Maitland’s Crossing the Borders of Time.
Not all stores view summer as a make or break season. “Summer doesn’t affect us much,” says Michael Coy, manager of Third Place Books in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. “We’re just cautiously optimistic about 2012 as a whole.” Others in tourist areas, like New England Booksellers Association president Annie Philbrick, owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., are happy to be holding their own. “Sales are good. We’re busy. We have more orders for schools and sell books off-site,” she says. Although some stores have seen a dip in sales, PW’s survey found only one in serious trouble. Others, which have had flat sales for the past few months, like seven-year-old Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa, are taking steps to turn their business around. According to manager April Gorski, the store is tightening its inventory and weeding out books and categories, like art and architecture. The Book Vault is also testing new sidelines. Following the example of Andover Bookstore in Andover, Mass., it is about to begin selling yarn.
So what will people be reading this summer? Chris Schleup, senior editor at Amazon.com Books, calls the debut novel from former book editor Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles (June 26), which combines the coming-of-age story of a young girl with a change in the universe, the slowing rotation of the earth, “the next big book you haven’t heard of maybe.” He’s also excited about Deborah Darkness’s Shadow of Night (July 10), the sequel to Discovery of Witches, which is in the top 100 at Amazon. On the nonfiction side, he says that ultramarathoner Scott Jurek’s newly released Eat and Run, with Steve Friedman, could be the next Born to Run.
Many bookseller picks for the summer mirror bestsellers lists from earlier in the year. Beehive’s Brulotte was one of several to anticipate continued strong sales for Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu, Stephen King’s The Wind Through the Keyhole, Susan Cain’s Quiet, and Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. A movie of the latter will be out later this month. Others farther west, like Third Place’s Coy, include Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, on their list.
Given the staying power of The Hunger Games, there is no indication that YA will slow. Leon Archibald, children’s buyer at Bank Square, was one of several to anticipate continued interest in Veronica Roth’s Insurgent, book two of the Divergent series, and Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, the companion volume to Graceling and Fire. Bookseller Dave Richardson at Blue Marble Books in Fort Thomas, Ky., who describes himself as “a big fan” of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, predicted that book one of the Lunar Chronicles, a January release, will be discovered this summer. In addition to YA, many, like the Book Vault’s Gorski, predict steady sales for all of Maurice Sendak’s books, given his recent death.
On the adult side, debut novels figure prominently among the summer picks from Bank Square’s Philbrick: Suzanne Joinson’s A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans (July 31), and Natalie Bakopoulos’s just released The Green Shore, set in Athens and Paris. Philbrick also looks forward to the latest from Little Bee author Chris Cleave, Gold (July 3). Although fiction dominates Philbrick’s beach reads, Ed Conklin, buyer at Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara, Calif., recommends Bob Spitz’s biography of Julia Child, Dearie (Aug. 7) and David Maraniss’s soon-to-be released Barack Obama: The Story.
“More people are buying books, and [they’re] buying more books,” says Lee Stewart, who manages Drury Lane Books in Grand Marais, Minn. She looks to continued sales for a longtime nonfiction favorite, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, as well as novelist and indie bookseller Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, just out in paperback.
“Summer’s looking good,” says Mark LaFramboise, head book buyer at Politics and Prose. His favorite book of the season is the new Martin Amis, Lionel Asbo (Aug. 21). “It’s so funny and smart. I just thought it was terrific,” he says. One of his top picks is Richard Ford’s recent novel, Canada, a “great story.” And he’s looking forward to the new Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King (June 19) as well as Alan First’s Mission to Paris (June 12). In nonfiction, LaFramboise cites Gary Krist’s City of Scoundrels and Marilyn Robinson’s When I Was a Child I Read Books.
“Booksellers always say people in New Orleans love to read about themselves,” says Britton Trice, owner of Garden District Books in New Orleans. For Trice, that has turned books like Tulane professor Lawrence Powell’s The Accidental City into a store bestseller that sells five or six copies a day. “It has legs,” he says. So does Kerri McCaffety’s four-color coffee-table book on Nola, New Orleans New Elegance.
At the 40-year-old Twig Book Shop in San Antonio, Tex., shopping local translates into especially strong sales for local children’s book author Rick Riordan, whose third book in the Kane Chronicles, The Serpent’s Shadow, was just released. “He is everyone’s fair-haired local boy,” says manager Claudia Maceo. “He comes in and signs books. We ship everywhere.” The store has also done well with Austin author Lynda Rutledge’s novel Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale.
WordsWorth Books & Co. in Little Rock, Ark., sells a lot of paperbacks in the summer, particularly local ones. Charles Portis’s True Grit has long had a place on the store’s bestseller list. “He’s so gracious,” says owner Jean Cazort. “He comes in and signs his books.” She also singles out local author Kevin Brockmeier, whose The Illumination came out in paperback earlier this year.
“The idea that people come and browse and the sales happen elsewhere is more true,” observes Tom Campbell, owner of the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, N.C. Still, he is looking forward to the paperback of North Carolina author Clyde Edgerton’s The Night Train (Aug. 7), which received a starred PW review. “It’s a wonderful book,” he says, “and it shows the power of music.” As a self-described “card-carrying tree hugger,” he predicts strong sales for Jim Robbins’s The Man Who Planted Trees, who is not local. He’s also excited about the paperback of Alix Ohlin’s story collection, Signs and Wonders. “It just blew me out of the water,” he says.
But after a long hot summer of books, there are even more good books on the horizon for fall. “Fall is shaping up well,” says LaFramboise. “It’s going to be great.” If only sales can keep pace.